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    The girl’s small hands softly pat the back and pet the braids of another girl sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her. They’re in a room in a church across from Churchill Downs that has become the “living room” of Evan and Vanessa Blum, the husband-and-wife duo who perform children’s music. The couple has brought a homey rug and a fireplace with fake flames, a cozy reprieve from this December evening’s cold tug. Two Cuban brothers play a conga with a kick pedal and test the mic, intrigued, while more kids of Churchill Downs’ backside workers settle in close, connected.

    Las manitos — the little hands — are doing what Vanessa’s hands are doing as she explains in Spanish the movements for the night’s first song, “Los Pollitos” (translation: the little chickens). It’s a tune as popular as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” that Vanessa often heard during her early childhood in Ecuador. In the church, fingers form into chicken beaks, circle the belly for “hunger” and palm together beneath the head for “sleep.” Vanessa sings like a crystal and freely giggles as Evan, wearing a colorfully collared shirt called a guayabera, strums along on his acoustic guitar. The Israeli bell bracelet strapped around Evan’s foot jingles with each tap.

    This is the 50th-something children’s show the two 30-year-olds — who both grew up in Louisville and met in college — have played in the last year. They’ve hopped from the Speed Art Museum to KMAC to different festivals, to school after school, library after library. They’ll also play sets at senior homes, performing standards and oldies by groups like the Ink Spots, which Vanessa would dance to with her grandparents as a girl.

    Vanessa is a Montessori-certified teacher, Evan has taught music lessons for years, and in 2018 both were feeling an absence in children’s music. So they released In Our World There Are No Strangers (or En Nuestro Mundo No Hay Extranjeros), which is a bilingual lesson in vulnerability and interconnectedness. It’s a series of soundscapes, full and bright, influenced by folks like John Lennon and ukulele player Tiny Tim. It’s a world of instruments: strings of the lap steel, the churrango, the guzheng.

    Now, Vanessa reads a sounds-strange story about Evan’s first day of school while he acts it out. When he wakes up, he roars like a lion. When he opens his mouth to eat, he moos like a cow. The kids’ hands fly over their mouths to catch laughter. During a game, the couple plays three sounds at once and the children have to guess what they’re hearing. El perro (dog), el tren (train), la lluvia (rain). “We’re giving them the opportunity to listen with their eyes closed,” Vanessa says. “We want them to really feel the sounds.”

    Hands rest in laps as the kids turn their attention to the stop-motion music video for “Sun, Sun, Sun” (“Sol, Sol, Sol”). One second reality, the next all whimsy as the couple follows the sun. First, the sun’s rays spill though the window, then into the garden where construction-paper bees buzz, then into an actual dug-out hole in the earth to end up by the ocean (really the Indiana Dunes, the couple driving the five hours for one shot), where sparkly dolphins flip over layers of paper waves. Lemurs leap through jungles; flowers and ferns grow on mountains. We see the sun in the stars, an oil-pastel Earth orbiting around it. “It’s a song about perspective,” Evan says. “A song about unifying everyone.”

    After the video, Vanessa, whose reddish-blond hair flows long over her flowery shawl, asks, “Preguntas?” Questions. One kid wonders how they made the video, and Vanessa explains how she and Evan took thousands of pictures and put them one after the other to get the effect. “We honor curiosity,” Vanessa says. “I think all kids just want to be talked to, taken seriously. We try to talk to them as much as possible.” Like those students at the West End School, who were older than the three- to six-year-olds the set is geared for. A full 15 minutes of questions.

    On this night, the light’s bright, and everybody’s together now. Sun, sun, sun. The chorus is strong. Sol, sol, sol. Even a mother in the back of the room sings. The shakers Evan and Vanessa passed out to all those tiny hands keep a light, rain-like rhythm. The sun gone, a new moon plays, hide-and-go-seek-the-sky.

    This originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Singing in the Sun." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photo by Danny Alexander,

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